October 20, 2006
When Campaign Tricks Turn Into Crimes
Colorado gubernatorial candidate Congressman Bob Beauprez's campaign may be in a bit of hot water, and a federal employee could be subject to prosecution, because of an improper search of the federal National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Representative Beauprez aired a commercial criticizing his opponent, Bill Ritter, for a crime committed by an illegal immigrant who entered into a plea bargain to a heroin charge when Ritter was District Attorney in Denver. The ad asserts that the defendant should have been deported, and reflects an effort to show Ritter is "soft on crime" and not tough enough on illegal immigrants, both well-worn campaign themes. The problem is that the information about the illegal immigrants conduct came from the NCIC database, and according to an AP story (here), a computer search has been traced to a federal employee. The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552a(i), provides as follows:
Any officer or employee of an agency, who by virtue of his employment or official position, has possession of, or access to, agency records which contain individually identifiable information the disclosure of which is prohibited by this section or by rules or regulations established thereunder, and who knowing that disclosure of the specific material is so prohibited, willfully discloses the material in any manner to any person or agency not entitled to receive it, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $5,000.
Disclosing NCIC information for use in a political campaign definitely is prohibited. The Beauprez campaign stated that it received the information about the illegal immigrant from an "informant." When juicy political information comes up, however, it might be a good idea to check the propriety of the informant's conduct. That does not appear to have slowed down Representative Beauprez, however, and he pressed Ritter in a debate to explain why his office entered into the plea bargain. The negative fall-out from an FBI investigation of the source of the information used in the ad may cost Representative Beauprez far more than any harm it might have caused Ritter. (ph)
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